Chicoans are proud, justifiably so, of Bidwell Park, which – at 3,670 acres – is more than three times the size of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Bidwell is divided into lower and upper sections, as geographically different as they are beautiful. The lower trail, featuring playgrounds, bandstands, picnic areas and both paved and dirt trails, is more accessible to the community at large. But it’s the larger and wilder upper trail where hardy Chico residents (and their many dogs) come to escape suburbia, lose themselves in nature and – so we’re told – occasionally go au naturel in watery spots such as Bear Hole (or Bare Hole, as some call it).
Here is a 9.5-mile trek – with shorter options – that takes you through lava mud flows and riparian woods, affords postcard views of Big Chico Creek’s coulee and offers side trips to swimming holes and a host of recreational splendors.
Weekend hike: Upper Bidwell Park Loop
Distance: 9.5 miles (with shorter options)
Directions to trailhead: Take Highway 99 to the East Avenue exit. Go 3 miles east on East Avenue. Just after the road changes to Manzanita Avenue, look for the sign saying “Upper Bidwell Park.” Go straight at the sign for less than a mile. Turn left at the North Rim Trail (Parking Area B) sign. Drive 100 yards and park.
Route (9.5 miles): From the trailhead, go uphill on the North Rim Trail, past the junction with the Middle Trail and beyond a landmark, the Easter Cross. Continue on the North Rim Trail until the next junction at 3.6 miles.
Turn right on the B Trail and plunge down on switchbacks to the canyon floor. Take the B Trail 1.5 miles to the Upper Park Road (a dirt fire road), and turn right.
Stay on the fire trail until you pass Parking Area L and a metal gate. Go around the gate to Bear Hole and veer left past Parking Area K. Pick up the Yahi Trail, turning right. Follow it about 1.5 miles until it ends at the Upper Park Road. At Horseshoe Lake, follow the Middle Trail back to Parking Area B.
Easier route (7 miles): Take North Rim to the B Trail. When you reach the junction with the Middle Trail, turn right and follow the Middle Trail back to Parking Area B.
Easiest route (5 miles): From Parking Area B, go a few hundred yards on the North Rim Trail and turn right on the Middle Trail. Go 2.2 miles to Parking Area N. Turn right and take Upper Park Road for .5 miles to the Lower Trail, where you’ll go 1.5 miles to the Middle Trail. Return to Parking Area B.
Toilets: Yes, at Bear Hole